Berkeley Student Cooperative to discuss acquisition of Pacific School of Religion property

Nicole White/Senior Staff

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In the hopes of expanding affordable student housing, the Berkeley Student Cooperative is set to discuss its potential acquisition of underused student housing owned by the Pacific School of Religion in North Berkeley.

According to a public statement by PSR President David Vasquez-Levy, the PSR does not fully utilize its campus and intends to strengthen its finances through a real estate deal. PSR was previously partnered with Mather LifeWays, a retirement complex developer based in Illinois, and was planning to convert some of PSR’s student housing into a retirement complex, but the plan was discontinued.

BSC wishes to acquire two of PSR’s existing housing buildings and operate them with minimal interior renovations, said Zach Gamlieli, BSC’s vice president of external affairs, in an email. BSC plans to meet with PSR as early as next week to discuss the plans.

Mather LifeWays cited “changes in political landscape” as their reason for withdrawing from the project.

The initial plan met opposition from the neighborhood in North Berkeley surrounding the area — commonly referred to as Holy Hill. Additionally, after the election of Mayor Jesse Arreguin and several other pro-preservation candidates to City Council, Mather LifeWays requested that the city planning department extend its project deadline multiple times, due to increased doubts surrounding the project’s status, said Michael Hohmeyer, a member of the activist group Save Holy Hill, which protested the project.

“The new mayor, Arreguin, he said many things during the election that made it seem he didn’t want to approve a lot of projects,” Hohmeyer said. “Between our neighborhood on one hand and the mayor … (Mather LifeWays) thought they didn’t really have a chance.”

Save Holy Hill were concerned about the size of the 265-unit center, which they thought might cast a shadow over many much smaller single-family homes in the area, Hohmeyer said.

“The BSC purchasing and operating two student housing buildings is completely in line with the demands of Save Holy Hill,” Gamlieli said in an email. “(We will) maintain existing student housing stock, preserve architecturally significant structures and protect the public right-of-way through the quad.”

Gamlieli added in an email that BSC is committed to providing a cooperative housing community to students who might otherwise be unable to afford a university education. For the 2016-2017 academic year, BSC charges roughly $850 per month for the room and board houses as well as $500 per month for apartments.

Apart from the two student housing buildings that BSC plans to acquire, the Save Holy Hill activists also hope that other available PSR buildings intended for sale will invite spirituality, research and social justice groups into the area, Hohmeyer said.

According to PSR spokesperson Erin Burns, it is presently too early for the institution to comment on matters regarding the property.

Charlene Jin is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharleneJin0327.